ACT leader David Seymour faces backlash for post encouraging public to use Māori code to get COVID-19 vaccine without booking

ACT leader David Seymour is facing backlash on Twitter after he suggested using a Māori access code to get a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine without making a booking. 

Seymour posted images of an email he says was sent to some Kiwis encouraging them to get a Pfizer jab at The Trusts Arena in west Auckland, where they would be able to get the vaccine without making a booking. 

The email purportedly informed the recipients that if they used a "priority access code for Māori", they would be able to show up at The Trusts Arena and get the vaccine without the need to secure a spot. 

"Good news. If you're worried about vaccination waiting times, you no longer need to make an appointment," Seymour captioned the post on Twitter, with images of the email and the access code. 

Seymour faced backlash over the post, with users pointing out that Māori vaccination rates are lower than the rest of the population. 

The latest Ministry of Health data shows 116,490 Māori have had two doses, out of more than 1.3 million New Zealanders, representing just over 8 percent of the fully vaccinated. 

Though rates of vaccination for Pacific Islanders is lower, with less than 80,000 with full protection. 

ACT leader David Seymour faces backlash for post encouraging public to use Māori code to get COVID-19 vaccine without booking

A study published online last week by researchers from the University of Waikato found "vaccination services in Aotearoa are not equitably distributed", with "priority populations including Māori, older people, and residents of areas with socioeconomic constraint" having to travel further, on average, to get jabs. 

In areas with better access, Māori - who are statistically more likely to suffer serious illness in the event of a COVID-19 infection - were more likely to have been vaccinated.

"You should delete this right now, David. You are undermining efforts to help get people vaccinated who are less privileged than yourself," one Twitter user wrote on Seymour's post. 

"Tangata whenua are underrepresented in vaccination rates and have greater overall health risks and lower mortality than other groups," another wrote. 

Others asked Seymour to delete the post. 

ACT leader David Seymour.
ACT leader David Seymour. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi says prioritising Māori was never about excluding anyone. 

"Māori are trying their best to keep ourselves alive and be proactive about contributing to the country's elimination strategy. An elimination strategy includes all Māori being vaccinated. Why Seymour would actively sabotage a Māori elimination strategy is dangerous.

"It's clear Seymour has no agenda to address inequalities in Aotearoa, and is happy to keep Māori in second place."

Co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said Seymour was politicking. 

"It's a low life move, and divisive politics at its finest, which puts our whānau wellbeing and lives at risk. I'm not often surprised by Seymour and his racist rhetoric but this is a new low for him. It was a cruel move and he ought to be ashamed of himself."

National Māori Authority chair Matthew Tukaki says Seymour's post on Twitter was inappropriate. 

"The fact is Māori vaccinations rates need to lift and anything we can do to achieve that is in the interests of Māori, the economy, the country's health. My strong advice to all politicians is stop the race-baiting."

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer.
Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Seymour argued in a press release that the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines should not be based on ethnicity. 

"I've heard of many people who have had appointments cancelled or have had to wait weeks for vaccinations bookings. Why should some be able to jump the queue, and others have to wait for weeks?

"The truth is that access to vaccination has been the same for people of all ethnic backgrounds. If fewer Māori are vaccinated it can't be a problem with access, but this move by the Government insinuates that Māori have trouble making a booking.

"This Government policy infantilises one group of New Zealanders and infuriates the rest.

"More worrying, it shows a Government obsessed with racially categorising its citizens. There are large variations in vaccine uptake all over the country, but the lens this Government chooses is race. That can only be divisive, if the Government categorises people by race, how can it guarantee our society will not follow suit over time?

"ACT wants all New Zealanders to have the opportunity to be vaccinated as quickly as possible. Whether you're Māori, pakeha, Pasifika or Asian. 

"We need to stop dividing New Zealanders against each other and make the rules fair for all."

Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare told Newshub Nation at the weekend he will push for Māori to get vaccine priority, should supplies start to run low.  

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